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Faculty Wisdom

The CCE is a resource for faculty who are considering developing a community-based learning course.

Thanks to the community-based learning (CBL) faculty fellows who have contributed to the creation of this page.

Why do "CBL"?

Our students learn in and out of the classroom but it is hard to find a way to bridge that gap. That is why I decided to include a CBL component into my Spanish in the Community course and it was a great success. If there is one thing our students want to do is get a sense that they can use what they learn in the classroom and CBL gave them that opportunity. The success of this CBL course has inspired the Latin American and Iberian Studies department to initiate talks about making a CBL course a requirement for our major. (Valencia)

The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words summarizes my rationale for having students participate in a CBL experience. It's one thing to read about prisons, jails, courts, etc, but an entirely different matter to find yourself entering one -- even as just a visitor. I have used such CBL experiences in a number of courses and have found that if the students remember nothing else about the course, they remember that experience for a very long time. (Neff)

I began doing CBL in my children's literature classes out of the most selfish of reasons: I wanted students to have real-world experience of children in all their variety, to fend off the kinds of generalizations that we are all prone to. When they are talking about how certain books do or don't appeal to children, their CBL experience may lead them to qualify or revise their impressions as they recall the specific one-on-one experiences they've had with individual children, who rarely conform to our generalizing stereotypes. (Gruner)

How is a CBL class different from a non-CBL class?

In community based learning classes, I watch my students develop from faculty-dependent learners to interdependent teams. Their enhanced capabilities and competence even surprise them by the end of the semester. They present their work in written and oral form to the agency with which they work throughout the semester. It is always amazing to me that they can explain and use the concepts from their coursework in value-added ways. They seem to develop a comfort level with the concepts and theories that is not always present in courses where students cannot "see" the application of coursework. It is almost impossible to convey the pride in their faces as they take ownership of their experiences, projects, and learning. There is often engaging dialogue between the students and agency representatives. Students leave the presentation commending each other. The exciting part for me is that the same course is so different and new each time; even though I use consistent topics and pedagogy. I learn so much about the work of various organizations in the Richmond community and, by using CBL, my students and I are able to contribute something constructive to their mission. (Hickman)

In CBL classes, students can see first-hand that their academic study has implications beyond the classroom. When we discuss how children's books are produced, distributed, and marketed, they can see what that means in terms of getting a particular book into a particular child's hands. Literary analysis can often feel remote from personal experience; CBL helps bridge that gap. (Gruner)

Why is it important to set goals for student outcomes?

I can't say enough about the importance of setting realistic goals for student outcomes and clearly communicating those goals to the students as well as to the community partners. If the goal is for students to provide service to the community, irrespective of whether they think they are learning anything, then the students need to be aware that their service is what's important. If, on the other hand, the goal is for the students to have an internship-like experience in which they are not only providing free labor, which is service to a community partner, but also learning something that may benefit them in their coursework or in their future careers, then the community partners need to be made aware of that goal. Students will tend to expect that "learning" is the primary goal of a CBL experience, while community partners may be more likely to expect that "service" is the primary goal of a CBL partnership. (Neff)

How do I find partners in the community?

Partnerships develop in many ways. The CCE maintains partnerships through two programs: Build It and the Richmond Families Initiative. Talk with Terry Dolson to begin your exploration.

I use a "request for proposal" process that includes a description of the community-based project for the course, and a short form requesting proposals from the community organizations. I send it to Terry and she posts my request on ConnectRichmond and fields responses for me. (Litteral)

I relied heavily on Build It and on Cassie Price. She helped me pick the best Build It sites for my students, and when she didn't have a Build It site that related to a policy problem I was interested in cover (e.g., health), she made contacts with non-profits in Highland Park (e.g., the Daily Planet Medical Respite Center) for me. Wonderful resource! I also had some discussions with Judy Mejia, but ended up not working with a RFI partner because I wanted all my sites to be in Highland Park. Finally, I did some digging on my own. I have known about Partnership for Families Northside for years, and contacted this organization when I was developing the course. Its executive director, Sally Riberio, then put me in touch with the good people at the Gang Reduction, Intervention, and Prevention program, which had recently targeted Highland Park for its outreach efforts.

How will my students get to sites off campus?

This is perhaps one of the most problematic issues so, once classes start, you should give your students at least a week to pick up their sites and find a way to go there. Make sure your students find a way to get to their site before they do anything else. I created a Blackboard page with all the sites so my students could communicate with each other and plan a way to get to their sites. Most of my students ended up carpooling, but some were able to use some of the Bonner Scholars vans. (Valencia)

My students do their projects in small groups which I out together, so I make sure each group has one student with a car in it. (Litteral)

How do I evaluate CBL?

This is not an easy task. If you don't give enough weight to the CBL component of your course, your students won't take it seriously. On the other hand, if the CBL component of your course has too much weight, your students will complain. There is no magic answer. I felt my students liked having a final project in which they could reflect about their CBL experience. I used Digital storytelling, a pedagogical strategy that can be used to help amplify and enhance students' reflective narratives, making them more compelling, multi-modal and accessible. The Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology will help you integrate digital storytelling into your course. They will also help you find the best practices when encouraging students to create digital stories that document creative inspiration and civic engagement. My final project was worth 15% of their final grade and their CBL experience was worth 20%: 10% just for completing the 20 CBL hours at the appropriate site and 10% for keeping a detailed reflective journal of each one of their visits. (Valencia)

This may not be a popular solution, but I don't directly evaluate the CBL experience. I do have students report on their experiences regularly, and that reporting figures into their participation grade. I also allow students to use their CBL experience in their final paper, and I tell them that this will probably improve their final grade as they will have a greater stake in the paper itself. (This turns out to be true!) I do not--and cannot--grade them on the quality of their interactions with the students they tutor or observe; rather, I grade the products that are influenced by that experience (but that also draw on their classroom work). In my case, this has usually worked, as the course is not about the CBL experience. In a class where it was more central, I'd have to take a different approach. (Gruner)

How do I integrate the students' experiences with course content and readings?

There are four major topic areas in my course. Community organizations submit proposals specifically related to each of the four topic areas. The class selects one organization's proposal and works in groups of 3-5 with this agency throughout the semester. Each group writes and presents a scenario to the full class describing the project and challenges or problems presented by their project. The group engages their peers in practical problem solving session in class, then all students use the problems and issues in the scenario to write a paper in which they apply concepts, theories, and practices from the course readings and lectures. As a result, they apply the course content to real world experiences, they advance or complete the project for the agency, and they present a written and oral report to the organization at the end of the semester. Each written and oral report is graded by the instructor. (Hickman)

For me this is the hardest part, because the CBL experience is not an essential part of the course. (That is, it's possible--indeed, more common!--to teach children's literature without a CBL component.) I try to encourage students to bring their CBL experiences back to the classroom by giving them time to discuss it as we discuss the readings for the course, and I encourage them to read each other's discussion board postings on their experiences and provide feedback. In a course with a lot of content to cover, it can be hard to make time for discussion of the CBL experience, but I've found that when I don't do it, students tend not to make as good connections on their own. (Gruner)

If I had only known...

One thing I wish I had known earlier concerns the necessity for students to undergo background checks for some community partners. This requirement was particularly problematic for students in a criminal justice course who wanted to partner with agencies that worked with youth. Unfortunately, the agencies did not reveal this requirement until after the students made contact and started the application process to be volunteers. The background checks took 2–3 weeks at a minimum, which put a number of students behind in terms of fulfilling the required number of hours. (Neff)